When he was chairman at General Buhari’s book launch a few years ago at the Trade Fair Complex in Kaduna, he asked Buhari whether he still remembered that day in July 1966 when the then Major Murtala Muhammed marched him (Buhari, then a lieutenant) to him, saying if he (Gowon) needed a trustworthy and competent ADC, he (Buhari) was his best bet. That was the day Gowon took over as head of state. Gowon then told Buhari it was only God that knew then that all three of them (Murtala, Buhari and himself) would be heads of state. Gowon was not bitter that both Murtala and Buhari were among those who removed him from power in 1975. That is the kind of human being that Gowon is. When Murtala marched Buhari to him to be his ADC, Gowon took a careful look at Buhari and said, “If I make this one ADC, people will not know who is the head of state.” Buhari was far taller than him and, for that, he found him unsuitable as his ADC. He appointed someone else and posted Buhari to Makurdi for an assignment far beyond Buhari’s rank, since he had been well recommended by Murtala. It was a difficult assignment but Buhari performed well, paving the way for his own rapid rise in the army. He also did not forget to thank General Buhari for the extraordinary kindness he showed him when he (Buhari) was head of state and he (Gowon) was still in London.
But no one should take Gowon’s seeming meekness for weakness. General Obasanjo would be the first to tell you that. At the beginning of Obasanjo’s presidency (1999-2007), when fuel scarcity had started embarrassing the country, Gowon led former heads of state to the presidential villa and told President Obasanjo that Buhari had an idea of how the fuel scarcity problem would be solved. Buhari was Obasanjo’s petroleum minister when he was military head of state and, throughout that period, there was never fuel scarcity. But Obasanjo would not let Buhari explain. He kept interrupting him at every turn. At a point, Gowon shouted at Obasanjo and asked him to shut up and listen to what Buhari had to say. Obasanjo kept quiet immediately and Buhari continued with his narrative. Of course, Obasanjo did not implement any of the suggestions as he was really not interested in solving the problem.